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POM0010.1177/0305735615594490Psychology of MusicLove and Barrett


Psychology of Music

A case study of teaching and

2016, Vol. 44(4) 830­–846
© The Author(s) 2015
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DOI: 10.1177/0305735615594490
composition masterclass pom.sagepub.com

Karlin G. Love and Margaret S. Barrett

Over recent decades music composition has occupied an increasingly prominent place in international
school music curricula with a consequent expansion of opportunities for students and of research
into classroom-based composition learning and teaching. Concurrently, creativity researchers have
investigated the lives and work of past and living eminent composers. This study of an orchestral
composers’ school sits in the gap between research into school-age students’ composition and
studies of eminent composers. For non-neophyte, but not yet expert, students, the professional
workshop offers a prime space for learning. Drawing on expertise theory, this case study examines
practices of expert composers working with advanced composer-students in an orchestral workshop
environment. Observation and interview methods were used during and after the workshop to gain
insight into outward manifestations of teaching and learning and into longer-term perceptions and
reflections. This article focuses on one setting: a masterclass in which expert composers and students
discussed issues emerging from the first rehearsal of students’ works. Findings suggest that, in this
setting, teaching and learning strategies are characterized by modeling expert thinking, problem-
finding, and sharing possibilities deemed promising based on experts’ accumulated experience. By
sharing from their more extensive experience, expert composers led students to consider additional
dimensions in compositional decision-making, extending students’ understandings of composing for
orchestra to include not only nuanced technique, but also more insightful perceptions of professional
orchestral culture.

composition, creativity, expertise, orchestras, professional musician, teaching

The training of aspiring professional composers is a largely under-investigated area. In addition

to practical and technical skills, composers—typically freelancers who work independently of
performers—may need to acquire deep understandings of performers’ cultures and traditions.

School of Music, University of Queensland, Brisbane, Queensland, Australia

Corresponding author:
Karlin G. Love, School of Music, University of Queensland, St. Lucia, Brisbane, Queensland- 4072, Australia.
Email: karlin.love@uqconnect.edu.au
Love and Barrett 831

While there is substantial research on transitioning from university to job-based work (e.g.
Eraut, 2000; Shulman, 2005; Smith & Reio, 2006), transitioning to freelance practice has
received little attention. Workshops with professional ensembles may assist emerging compos-
ers in their transition from university training to professional freelance practice.
This article reports findings from an investigation of one such workshop: a five-day compos-
ers’ school offered within an Australian professional symphony orchestra, led by a team of four
eminent composers. Specifically, the article describes and examines aspects of teaching and
learning evident in interactions occurring between eminent composer-teachers and three
aspiring, emerging composer-students during a masterclass session following the first orches-
tral rehearsal of the students’ original works.
This study sits in the gap between research into school-age (Barrett, 1996; Burnard &
Younker, 2004; Kennedy, 2002; Seddon, 2003) or neophyte (Bamberger, 2003; Lupton &
Bruce, 2010) students’ composition and studies of eminent composers (Camphouse, 2002;
Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; McCutchan, 1999). Building on studies of eminent composer-teach-
ers working one-to-one with students in university settings (Barrett, 2006; Barrett & Gromko,
2007), it moves beyond tertiary training to investigate what many emerging composers regard
as the next stage in their professional development: ensemble-based schools in which pieces are
workshopped under the guidance of established, expert composers (Dahm & Isaacs, 2011;
Gyger, 2014; Love & Barrett, 2014).
The purpose of the study was to further our understanding of advanced composition teach-
ing and learning by examining a specialized, expert setting. The study sought to address the
following questions: What does teaching and learning look like in this setting? What practices
and strategies are evident? And what might the composer-teachers’ underlying beliefs and val-
ues be?

Theoretical background
Creative expertise.  Contemporary descriptions of creativity consistently pair notions of innova-
tion with those of usefulness or appropriateness. Innovation without appropriateness is
regarded as fancy or absurdity rather than creativity (Csikszentmihalyi, 1996; Runco & Jaeger,
2012). Further to the concept of appropriateness, Sternberg (1999) proposed a model of vary-
ing propulsions to describe how creative practitioners’ contributions interact with the move-
ment of domains of practice. Some domains are dependent on or welcome innovation; others
are oriented toward replicating current or past practices. Within symphonic orchestral compo-
sition, an ensemble structure oriented toward performing repertoire from previous centuries
tends to limit innovative possibilities. Consistent production of appropriate work requires skills
and knowledge of the domain (Amabile, 1996) including what it will accept—its propulsion.
Discussing the development of creative practitioners, Kaufman and Beghetto (2009) recog-
nize intermediate levels between children’s creative efforts and historically significant “big-c”
creators. They propose four levels: mini-c, little-c, pro-c, and big-c creativity. For this discussion
we focus on pro-c creativity—the level of practice necessary to work as a professional. We sug-
gest that this is the level to which students in the composers’ school of this study aspire.
Kaufmann and Beghetto (2009) note that development of pro-c creative practice in a domain
is to a large extent the development of expertise in that domain. Thus, expertise theory provides
a lens for examining the phenomenon of this composers’ school. While numerous studies
investigate performer expertise (e.g. Ericsson, Krampe, & Tesch-Römer, 1993; Hallam, 2001,
2011; Lehmann & Gruber, 2006; Papageorgi et al., 2010), few have addressed developing com-
poser expertise.
832 Psychology of Music 44(4)

Studies suggest that at least 10 years, or 10,000 hours of practice are necessary for the
development of expertise in a domain (Ericsson, et al., 1993; Gardner, 1993; Simonton, 1991).
Yet many who have done the hours are not considered experts. Bereiter and Scardamalia
(1993) propose a distinction between experts and experienced non-experts: experts are those who
work beyond proficiency, continually extending both their personal competence and their
domains, rather than simply acquiring skills and performing more efficiently. In short, expertise
is a distinctive way of thinking and doing (Feltovich, Prietula, & Ericsson, 2006).
Three influential approaches to expertise development inform this discussion: Dreyfus and
Dreyfus (1980), Ericsson and colleagues (1993) and Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993). The dis-
tinctive features of these are outlined below.
Dreyfus and Dreyfus (1980, 1986) propose a model of expertise development with novice,
advanced beginner, competent, proficient, and expert stages. The model is based on learning
via instruction and experience in situated practice and has been adapted for nursing (Benner,
1984/2001) and school teaching (Berliner, 1994, 2001). Benner’s adaptation (1984/2001)
proposes a qualitative change of practice and teaching strategies, moving from rule-following,
through holistic perception development, to the ability to use extensive personal experience to
make effective choices in untried situations. Benner suggests that progression through the dif-
ferent ways of learning and practicing is necessary: novices need to follow rules; experts need
to avoid a rule-following mindset. Novices need external support and scaffolding; experts design
and take responsibility for their learning environments and for the consequences of their prac-
tice. Teachers can facilitate progress by providing situated experiences with appropriate levels
of responsibility, offering rules and structures at first, then opportunities to practice decision-
making in light of accumulating experience.
Challenging folk beliefs that excellence is due to innate talents or divine intervention,
Ericsson and colleagues (1993) developed an influential theory of deliberate practice, which they
describe as “a regimen of effortful activities … designed to optimize improvement” (1993, p.
363), guided by critical reflection and comparison of one’s practice against domain standards.
Improvement is less dependent on talent than it is on time and attention for deliberate practice,
quality instruction, and facilities. Music performance studies have investigated the impact of
family environment and support on practicing and achievement (Creech, 2009; Sosniak,
1985), specialized instruction and performance environments (Barrett, 2011), and relation-
ships between practice time, practice strategies, and achievement level, noting that as learners
progress and play more accurately they can reflect more effectively, and thus acquire or develop
better practice strategies (Hallam, 2001; McPherson & Zimmerman, 2002). Learners develop
better representations of what to practice, and of what practicing entails, thus while practice
leads to expertise, expertise leads to better practicing (Hallam, 2001).
Composers can undertake technical exercises to improve aural skills or theoretical skills such
as counterpoint and stylistic imitation; orchestration texts abound with transcription exercises.
However when a new work is the intended outcome, a composer may not be able to imagine a
precise representation of practice. The research from which Ericsson and colleagues proposed the
deliberate practice theory intentionally examined performers—those whose expertise could be
identified easily (in Schraw, 2005). Formulating a clear representation of expert practice is chal-
lenged when innovation is a constraint. One’s work cannot be too much like that of admired
experts, yet it needs to be as good. For creative expertise, more explanation is required.
Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993), writing at the same time as Ericsson and colleagues’ influen-
tial article, contend that the primary means of developing expertise is the transformation of for-
mal knowledge (overt facts and principles) into skill or informal knowledge by means of progressive
problem-solving. Progressive problem-solving uses knowledge gained from solving a problem to set
Love and Barrett 833

and solve further problems. It includes, in a cyclical fashion, problem-finding and problem-setting
as well as problem-solving. Reflection on one’s work, alert to extensions and alternatives, can lead
to further purposes. Experienced non-experts, who can solve familiar problems very well, use rou-
tine solutions and do not use the experience of solving a problem to prompt new investigations.
Bereiter and Scardamalia argue that progressive problem-solving is the convergence of expertise
and creativity, and distinguishes experts from experienced non-experts:

The process of expertise, the continual reinvestment of mental resources into the constitutive problems
of one’s field, is an inherently creative process … The experienced nonexperts [sic] have been devoting
their efforts to reducing everything to routines. They are the ones clattering along in well-worn ruts,
while the experts are out there breaking new ground in their efforts to address problems at increasingly
complex levels (1993, p. 123).

Expert practice—engaging with increasingly complex knowledge and skills, “continually rein-
vesting” each step into further problems and projects—is how creative expertise is developed.
Deliberate practice (Ericsson et al., 1993) is a kind of progressive problem-solving at the level
of performance details. Progressive problem-solving includes yet goes beyond deliberate prac-
tice, investing newly gained knowledge in constructing new representations of possible goals—
creative goals beyond previous personal or domain imagination.

Promisingness.  Continually looking for new problems to solve could lead to infinite trails to pur-
sue, unmanageable complexity, and wasted time and effort. Bereiter and Scardamalia (1993)
propose that experts are expert at choosing which problems to attempt and which solutions
have promise. They call this quality promisingness. A judgement of promisingness recognizes
the constraints of the particular situation: one’s present ability, available resources, and goal
relevance. Extensive problem-solving in a domain, successful and unsuccessful, develops one’s
understanding of constraints. Successful experience gives more specific, positive information
from which future judgements can be made than unsuccessful experience gives. Bereiter and
Scardamalia (1993) refer to building up “a repertoire of indicators” (p. 139) and a “large body
of informal and impressionistic knowledge” (p. 151) of promisingness—the signs of promising
and unpromising paths. Practice can thus continue at the edge of one’s competence without
being wasted on dead ends.
Others have noted this aspect: Benner (1984/2001) and Sennett (2008) describe using
intuition to avoid likely unfruitful options. Scientists studied by Csikszentmihalyi (1996)
reflected that they were better than less successful peers at discerning between dead-ends and
fruitful possibilities. Paynter suggests that recognizing “rightness” is “possibly the most impor-
tant technique in composition” (2000, p. 20). Recognizing promisingness encourages the crea-
tor to move onward from insight to creative production.
Teaching for expertise, then, includes providing access to formal knowledge of the domain
and guided practice in its activities, but also guidance in and modeling progressive problem-
solving. Expert mentors, having accumulated rich promisingness knowledge, may help stu-
dents become independent learners by modeling judgement-making, devising new strategies,
and encouraging creative risk-taking and reflection (Barrett & Gromko, 2007; Dreyfus &
Dreyfus, 2005). When composers hear their works played they accumulate data for future
promisingness judgements. Expert composers can help less-experienced composers interpret
this aural feedback by sharing their promisingness knowledge while the less-experienced build
up their own.
Barrett (2006) and Barrett and Gromko (2007) describe teaching and learning relation-
ships between eminent teachers and advanced students working in one-on-one studio settings
834 Psychology of Music 44(4)

over an extended period (a semester) as a form of collaboration. In these collaborations teachers

guide students toward developing effective pieces, independent problem-finding and problem-
solving, and a composer “voice.” Teaching processes and strategies observed include question-
ing to provoke students to explain their intentions, identifying problems, suggesting possibilities,
and referencing existing repertoire, as well as revealing and modeling a successful composer’s
lifeworld. Both studies identify collaborative relationships in that both parties are contributing
toward the goals of a good piece and of becoming more expert composers (Barrett, 2006;
Barrett & Gromko, 2007).
Bereiter and Scardamalia propose four strategies for developing creative expertise: acquiring
a conceptual understanding of creativity, studying promisingness, teaching design, and pro-
moting cooperative creativity (1993, p. 147–149). Understanding the dynamics of creative
and expert practice can enhance advanced learning and teaching. As learners take increased
responsibility for their work and learning, moving from rule-following toward experience-using
(Benner, 1984/2001), they benefit from understanding how they are thinking, and thus are
more alert to possibilities, gradually becoming more able to evaluate them.

Methodology, methods and techniques

To investigate the phenomenon of expert composition pedagogy with emerging composers, a
qualitative case study approach was adopted. Qualitative case study approaches are character-
istically used to explore complex, particular phenomena (such as the pedagogy of composition)
in depth (Freebody, 2003) and provide opportunities to illuminate general issues from the study
of the particular (Stake, 1995). Although this case might be considered “unique” and therefore
intrinsic in nature it may also function instrumentally as a means to making “petit generaliza-
tions” to comparable settings (Stake, 1995, 2000). Using a narrative approach to report the
case study is intended to provide readers with a rich account of the phenomenon in order to
increase the possibility of transfer to other settings and contexts.

The case
The study was undertaken in an established orchestral composition workshop—a professional
development initiative of the Australian national orchestra network. It was selected as a dis-
tinctive case of elite, intensive training with eminent teachers and expert performers. The five-
day workshop is conducted annually within the work setting of a professional symphony
orchestra, managed by the orchestra’s education coordinator. Four eminent composer-teach-
ers led the school: one as director, one as conductor, and two as tutors. They are mid-late career
composers who have been commissioned multiple times by professional symphony orchestras.
Students audition through submitting a completed work for orchestra. Each year between
four and seven students are selected. Upon acceptance, students’ works were proofread by a
composer-teacher and an orchestration exercise was assigned. Students then made changes,
completed the exercise and prepared players’ parts prior to arrival.
As reported in individual interviews and public biographies of non-interviewed participants,
nearly all students selected for this composers’ school had completed master’s or doctorate
degrees in composition. However, they had relatively little experience composing for orchestra.
While their chamber music output was generally substantial, few had composed more than one
orchestral work before attending the school and performances of these were single reading ses-
sions only. Students who were returning (three of the six interviewed) were typically bringing
their third or fourth orchestral works to this school. First-time students were bringing their first
or second orchestral works and experiencing a full rehearsal process for the first time.
Love and Barrett 835

On the first day students attended individual lessons with the composer-conductor to address
tempo, rhythm, and balance issues in their pieces and also with the other composer-teachers
who raised additional concerns. Despite receiving this input, students were not encouraged to
make changes prior to rehearsal.
The second day of the school began with the first of three orchestral rehearsals. Each stu-
dent’s 7- to 9-minute work was allocated 20–25 minutes of rehearsal inclusive of set-up, ques-
tions, and clarifications. Immediately after its rehearsal, composer-teachers spent a few minutes
pointing out concerns to the composer-student. The afternoon continued with an orchestra-
tion lecture-demonstration by director and orchestra and finished with a masterclass on stu-
dents’ rehearsed works. The remaining 3 days included further rehearsals, orchestration
demonstrations, another masterclass, the performance, a concluding round of individual les-
sons, and group debrief and evaluation sessions.
The school is held annually and data were generated over two successive iterations.
Participant selection for the study was by means of a gatekeeper within the hosting orchestra.
While consent for observations was provided by the hosting orchestra and organizers, all par-
ticipants were informed of the study and given the opportunity to restrict their involvement
(e.g. camera view).1 All successful student applicants (past and current), and current teaching
and organizing staff were invited to participate as interviewees. All who accepted were included
in the study (six current students, four past students, four current teaching and two organizing
staff members).2 Upon advice from the staff member responsible, five orchestral players were
approached directly by the researcher, four of whom consented to participate (player data is not
used for this article). While the entire composers’ school was studied (Love, 2014), this article
examines teaching and learning practices and beliefs as evidenced in discussion of three stu-
dents’ original works during the first masterclass.
The observing researcher sat at the end of the table around which the masterclass was con-
ducted, visibly present but not participating in discussions nor able to see students’ scores.
Observation data generation included taking limited in-field notes, more extensive reflective
notes away from the site, and recording events using static audio and video recorders for later
viewing. Recordings were transcribed to assist careful and informed reflection and analysis
(Clancey, 2006).
We also conducted audio-recorded individual interviews with composer-students at the
commencement and several months after the school (two per participant, 45–120 minutes
each); group interviews with composer-students at commencement and completion; and indi-
vidual and group interviews reviewing rehearsal video recordings. Interviews were semi-struc-
tured, exploring individuals’ composition histories, beliefs about creativity and learning to
compose, previous experiences of and/or hopes about the school, and self-understanding as a
learning composer (Kvale, 1996). Follow up interviews probed further, reflected on specific
experiences from the school and interrogated our interpretations emerging from observation
data. Transcriptions of interviews were sent to participants for checking and confirmation
(Stake, 1995). In a similar manner, we interviewed composer-teachers, players, and past com-
poser-students (one 40–100 minute interview per participant), and conducted two group
interviews with the conductor, director, and orchestra’s education coordinator. For this article,
to examine composer-teachers’ beliefs, teaching structures, and processes, we draw primarily
on observations of masterclasses and on composer-teacher interviews conducted on the last
day of the school.
Analysis began through direct interpretation (Stake, 1995) of notes, transcripts, and
repeated re-viewings of recordings (Ratcliff, 2003). Because this is an exploratory study, we
approached analysis without pre-identified categories. After reviewing notes, comparing them
836 Psychology of Music 44(4)

to transcripts and multiple re-viewings of recordings, numerous teaching/learning themes and

categories emerged, using integrated processes of direct interpretation (Stake, 1995), thematic
identification and inductive emergence (Janesick, 2000), and then thick description (Geertz,
1993) and narrative analysis (Polkinghorne, 1995). After further comparison of observations
of other masterclasses in particular, teaching and learning interactions throughout the school
in general, and interview reports of enduring outcomes, the most salient themes were identi-
fied. Then through careful selection of vignettes and writing, meanings located in the experi-
ences of these interacting individuals became increasingly visible and compelling. In this article
these vignettes are signified by italics in the text.
While all conclusions are supported by the whole, particular aspects were more concentrated
in some activities than others. Expert sharing of promisingness was most evident in the master-
class sessions and one-on-one lessons, less so in rehearsals, orchestration demonstrations, and
other group teaching sessions, but still present. This first masterclass session offered the most
direct and succinct examples, plus the phenomenon of teachers interacting with each other.
The interpretation offered is one understanding of this case. As all participants experience
the case differently and give sometimes competing accounts (Lincoln & Guba, 2005), so, also,
analysts may find differing interpretations. We aim to offer an account that is faithful, coherent
and believable (Denzin & Lincoln, 2000).

Presentation and discussion of findings

The masterclass
Composer-teachers, conductor, education coordinator and composer-students gathered in a
meeting room around a large table with copies of students’ scores. Each student’s work was the
subject of a 10–15 minute discussion between conductor, composer-teachers and its composer.
Other students observed without contributing. The composer-student, conductor, and com-
poser-teachers had individual marked-up copies; other students shared remaining copies,
sometimes two students to one score.
Composer-teacher 1 chaired the session. In his introduction he made three general points. The first
recommended clear and simple textures. His second point regarded timpani: use them for reinforcement,
not for independent lines. He added as his third point, “The other thing I’d really like to say is that if the
composition isn’t good then you really can’t orchestrate that composition. The idea of orchestration and
composition being separate entities is a false dichotomy.”
To provide a sense of how the masterclass proceeded, we offer an excerpt from the discussion
of the first work.
Composer-teacher 1 began, “I don’t think I have very much to say about [Composer-student 1’s]
except we talked about”
“We talked about the oboe note,” interrupted the student.
“Yeah, the oboe note here that sticks out. Putting it down the octave, maybe.”
The conductor looked through his score, “In bar 22? Yeah. Well, it’s just not nice to start on a high
E. They’d rather get there gradually. It’s gonna be spat out. It’s never going to be a soft entrance; it’s
never going to be a subtle entrance into that particular texture. If he gets it at all.”
Composer-teacher 1 continued, “Other than that I thought, ‘Very professional.’” He flipped through
the score. “Bar 90, I just wondered … You’ve got articulation just about everywhere else in the piece. I
thought for the horns it might actually be useful to have some articulation in bar 90 onwards.” He sang
their part. “They were playing like that anyway, but it would be nice to actually give them that little bit
Love and Barrett 837

of shape there. I would suggest accent-staccato.” He sang again. “That will hopefully reinforce every-
thing else.”
Concern about the high oboe note reflects awareness of how players perceive their parts.
Recommending additional articulation in the horn parts demonstrates concern about commu-
nication inconsistencies and helping the composer-student’s work better conform to orchestral
norms. Much of the masterclass discussion was along these lines: composer-teachers sharing
from their experience about how to best communicate with the orchestra and how orchestral
players receive notated communication.

Knowledge shared
As we noted the issues selected by composer-teachers for discussion, their proposed solutions,
and ensuing digressions, we coded them according to topic areas and teaching strategies and
identified two general teaching-learning themes: communication and “lore.”

1. Communication includes music notation issues such as whether to use abbreviations,

whether to convey intended intensity changes through tempo or articulation markings,
and how to notate harmonics. Communication also includes orchestral protocols.
2. Lore includes instrument-specific knowledge such as agility and articulation limits, or
the difficulty of playing high and soft on the oboe. It also includes knowledge of instru-
mentalists—how orchestral players prefer to approach playing their instruments.

Each theme includes knowledge of orchestral composition technique and knowledge of

orchestral performance culture. Taken together, they challenge students’ conceptions of com-
posing for orchestra, guiding them toward better representations of the task and more promis-
ing ways to approach it.
In the following section we present characteristic examples from our observations to illus-
trate each theme.

Theme 1. Communication: Notation.  Composer-student 2’s piece had numerous tempo changes,
doubling and halving the tempo (to and from♩=60 and♩=120) thus, passages going over the
change had counter-intuitive rhythmic notation. In the masterclass, Composer-student 2
explained that he felt different tempi conveyed different intensities. The conductor countered
that intensity changes could be better conveyed though articulation markings.
When the student asked which of the two tempi the conductor would prefer to conduct, he replied, “I
think you’re better off keeping the slower tempo.”
Composer-teacher 2 questioned this, “You know the beginning of Mahler One where he’s got those
off-stage trumpets that suddenly do that double tempo thing? … Don’t you do it like this? Isn’t it imme-
diately double tempo?”
The conductor replied, “I always conduct it slowly. And you just— you’re doing it like a subdivided
tempo.” He sang and conducted. “A good conductor will be able to put enough click into the slow beat to
provide the necessary pops for those trumpets. My preference, in a situation like this is always to be able
to conduct a slower tempo. Put the click in.” He conducted the student’s passage at the slower tempo
(♩= 60). “See? It all changes. If it was all in the slower tempo it’d be much better.”
“Would it sound exactly the same though?” asked Composer-teacher 2.
“Yeah, it would. And if it doesn’t the first time through, you simply rehearse it so that it does.”
838 Psychology of Music 44(4)

He sang and conducted again, “See the awkwardness of going along at 120, one-two-three-four. See
what I mean? They did it very well, but they’re a good orchestra. Simplifying things is always a good
This composer-student had tried to convey intensity via tempo change, but for players whose
lines went over the change, it was confusing to read. The conductor preferred to communicate
intent through conducting technique. He was willing to invest rehearsal time in making it
work: “And if it doesn’t [work] the first time through, you simply rehearse it so that it does.” Using
limited time to rehearse—work on interpretation—is preferable to using time to clarify confus-
ing notations.

Communication: orchestral protocol.  Composer-student 3 had many extended techniques in her

piece, including some that might be seen as damaging: striking the timpani shell and using
coins on harp strings. These caught Composer-teacher 1’s attention:

It’s fine to email the orchestral management and say, “Can I ask the player something?” It’s a good
thing to do in advance … rather than just assuming that a special technique can be done. So, yep, with
everything you put on the page, it has a consequence, doesn’t it? And so when we’re asking for extended
techniques—and I really love that imaginative aspect of the piece, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying
to tell you not to do them—I’m just suggesting to you maybe do a bit of research.

At the end of the masterclass, after numerous revisions had been discussed, Composer-student 2
asked, “So if we’re trying to fix anything, like for example, if we’re chopping out a bar, should we redo
all the orchestral parts for rehearsal?”
The orchestra’s education coordinator replied, “No, I would suggest going and marking on the
[parts] now. Because they’ve already made their bowings and markings.”
The conductor agreed, “You can’t give them more different parts now.”
Composer-teacher 1 noted: It’s easy if you just want to stand up and say, “Take out bar 36,” [or,]
“This is what I’d like to do: With these sections, repeat the first note or second note.” And they’re smart
enough to work it out … Some of the suggestions [we’re] making are maybe for revision for the future.
So rather than going through and doing total rewrites, it’s sort of trying to adapt as much as you can.

Many principles of orchestral communication were illuminated: notate for easy rehearsing and
trust the conductor to convey your intentions; contact management before you arrive if you
have questions for players; once players have marked their parts do not make them re-do it.

Theme 2: Lore.  Orchestral composition “lore” includes information that may not be self-evident
or presented in formal orchestration teaching. Often, as with the contrabassoon example below,
the issue may have been covered in a textbook, but doesn’t lodge in a composer’s imagination
until forced by a real situation. There is lore about instruments, and also about instrumentalists,
that is, how players are likely to respond.

Lore: instruments.  Composer-student 3’s piece included rapid technical passages for many instru-
ments. The conductor was concerned about one for contrabassoon:

That was an awkward spot. You just can’t get around quickly on a contrabassoon. It’s very mechanically
limited … It’s the most ponderous bloody instrument. It really is. And it’s sort of like you need to pay
attention to the contra much as you pay attention to the timpani in that it is a supportive role really,
unless you want a particular solo; rather than doing too much of this stuff.
Love and Barrett 839

Composer-teachers challenged students to extend their imagination beyond sound to the physi-
cality of playing each instrument.

Lore: instrumentalists.  Lore also includes ways of understanding instrumentalists—what players

are willing and happy to do. They are reluctant to use techniques that might damage their
instruments. They are proud of their expertise and want a positive return on their practice
investment. They want to sound good.
Composer-teacher 2 pointed to a passage in Composer-student 2’s score, “I almost get the impres-
sion you did that to the second trumpet just for the hell of it. You looked at the first trumpet part and
thought, ‘Oh, I’ll,’” He paused, “Am I [wrong]?”
“It was more just the idea of having some kind of an echo effect,” the student replied. “And I under-
stand it’s awkward there, but I thought it could be—”
“You know, it would sound lovely if it were by itself,” interrupted Composer-teacher 2, “If it was a
feature. But you’ve just kind of blurred it in there, and it’s kind of gotten caught within the fabric.”
“And it’s going to sound like a mistake,” observed the conductor … “Orchestral players hate that.
They hate playing the piece absolutely correctly, knowing someone out front will think it’s a mistake.
They hate that. And for good reason.”
“But that is something that’s just an experience thing: knowing what sounds wrong and what
sounds right,” said Composer-teacher 2 (emphasis added).
The experienced composer-teachers were able to make aspects of lore—tacit knowledge of
orchestral culture—explicit for less-experienced composer-students. And while the composer-
teachers may have come across harshly, afterwards students conveyed they would rather be
told what they need to know than be treated “nicely” and left ignorant.

Teaching strategies
The underlying collaborative goal was an effective performance of each piece. Motivated by this
pragmatic short-term focus, composer-teachers worked vicariously on problems they identified
in students’ works, sometimes jointly building a possible solution, other times offering contrast-
ing solutions. In all cases, they left implementation decisions to the student. Modeling expert
thinking, joint problem-solving, and provoking student responsibility are three significant
teaching strategies we observed.
The following is an example of expert thinking: problem-finding stimulated by composer-
teachers’ sense of what is effective; and of joint problem-solving as they analyze and generate
possibilities from their more extensive experience.
Composer-teacher 1 paged through Composer-student 1’s score, “Yeah. I just wondered, at bar 121,
this texture just stops for two bars and then it gets going again.”
“Yeah,” said the conductor, “I felt there was a little hiatus there, a bit too much hiatus.” He looked
over at Composer-teacher 1, “Did you feel that?”
“Yeah, I just felt that too much of the tension dissipates.”
“Yeah, because what you’re doing is you’re going into that half-tempo thing with the semiquavers in
the woodwind which is excellent, but we kind of lose the pulse before that. Even if you were just to give
it a little—like something percussive. I don’t know, it just seemed to lose momentum, didn’t it?”
“To me it seemed like,” Composer-teacher 1 paused, concentrating on the score. “This harp. You
could just take out a couple of more notes in that pattern of the harp.” He sang it. “Just keep that going
a little bit. You don’t have to keep that pattern going exactly, but …” He sang it again.
840 Psychology of Music 44(4)

“Something every crotchet,” added the conductor. “Maybe off [beats], whatever. But I think it needs
The student sang a possibility.
Composer-teacher 1 said, “I’d even do a little bit more than that, but something like that, yeah. I
think that’ll help it, because you’ve pretty much then got the same music going on at 124, and it just
feels like, ‘Oh, that’s just a hole there.’ And it seemed like a little bit of a shame to me.”
“Ok,” agreed the student, “Let’s just thin out the harp a little bit more.”
“And keep it going.”
The conductor added, “So you can anticipate the rhythm from the flutes and the clarinets at 121.”
He sang their pattern. “Like that. Anticipate the rhythm that’s about to come, but keep providing that
motion. Because it was like, ‘Oh, bugger. It stops.’”
“So instead of removing harp in that measure, you’re talking about adding harp in?” asked the
“Yeah,” replied Composer-teacher 1. “That’s what I mean.” He reached across to the student’s score.
“Alter that pattern a little bit and keep it going.”
“Just add a little bit?”
“Yeah,” answered the conductor. “Just fill those two bars with a little harp rhythm. And my sugges-
tion would be to anticipate the flute and clarinet at 124.”
“Yeah, that’s a great idea,” said Composer-teacher 1. He sang one possibility, then the conductor
sang another.
The predominant teaching and learning strategy employed in this masterclass is studying
scores in order to trigger memories of the rehearsal and imagination of what is possible. A score
provides a problem-solving space in which to work on compositional issues (Barrett, 2005). This
offers a faster procedure than referring to audio recordings and forces composers to constantly
translate between imagined sound and notation—the medium in which their work is conveyed.
Yet notable in these instances was the use of singing. Both score and singing were needed to
communicate the composer-teachers’ ideas.
The composer-teachers viewed the problematic “hiatus” moment with a broad perspective:
while their initial concern was the piece’s momentum, using material from the following sec-
tion enabled the hole-filler to serve an additional function of providing motivic coherence.
Their suggestions progressed from something percussive to keep the harp going but change its pat-
tern to use the upcoming flute and clarinet material in the harp. They modeled how expert compos-
ers think, and shared from their better internal representations of the orchestral composing
task and their sense of promisingness (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993).

Provoking student responsibility

As above, although composer-teachers proposed promising solutions for identified problems,
they were general suggestions: the kind of solution needed, not prescriptive details. It was up to
the student to choose exactly how to deal with the problem.
Composer-student 3’s piece had a microtonal passage for trombones. In the masterclass, the conduc-
tor identified it as a problem, “The microtones in the brass, have you had any thoughts about that?”
She replied, “Oh, I’m going to change them.”
After they brainstormed several chromatic alternatives, he put forth a principle, “Sometimes, the
most logical is the best one, or the easiest one. The whole thing about writing for orchestra is K.I.S.S.,
Keep It Simple Stupid, because—and I’m not calling you stupid, but—orchestral players just want to
be able to read it: bang. That’s their craft; that’s what they do best. So the more unnecessary detail you
Love and Barrett 841

try and put into a score, the more it confuses them and you just don’t want confused orchestral musi-
cians. They like it simple. And most things can be written in a simple manner.”
Composer-teacher 2 said, “[The conductor] isn’t at all raining on your creativity here, are you?”
“Hell, no.”
‘[We’re] just saying, you’ve got to think of the most practical and logical way of getting what you
want from a score.’
“No, don’t get the wrong impression,” said the conductor. “What I’m saying is, a good test is taking
the part itself, and just looking at it and saying, ‘How would I like to sight-read that … if I don’t know
this piece?’… If you, yourself, can perceive that it’s difficult to read first up, imagining sight reading it,
then you need to start adjusting things a little bit. This is a general rule for everybody, ok?”
Students were challenged to take responsibility for more aspects of the composition process
than they had before. Not only did they need to accurately capture their ideas in notation, but
they needed to translate them into notation that communicates efficiently to expert, but time-
constrained players. They needed to compose with appropriate technique for the culture.

Participant reflections
As the expert composers interacted, students observed multiple ways to approach problems,
taking into account orchestral composition technique and the culture of orchestral perfor-
mance. Each proffered option was recognized as workable and promising to the more experi-
enced composer-teachers, even when they challenged or questioned each other. Students were
given a view of expert thinking about open-ended problems in a creative domain.
Due to the short-term nature of the school, the collaborative nature of teacher–student rela-
tionships, while present in a limited way, is less evident than in Barrett and Gromko’s (2007)
study, and there was little evidence of concern for students’ developing “voice.” The composer-
teachers in this study regarded their role as technical and cultural guides. Composer-teacher 1
recounted interpreting players’ comments and behavior for students, sharing from his experi-
ence of orchestral culture. He reflected, “Composition is such a technical art that someone who
has experience is what you need when you’re a student, someone who has had the experience
of writing for an orchestra if you’re writing an orchestral piece”: an expert, sharing from his or
her store of promisingness (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993).
This practical, real-world composers’ school provides opportunities for learners to build
their own knowledge of promisingness, as Composer-teacher 1 observed:

You also learn from mistakes. I think the students here this week will have taken so much from the
mistakes that they’ve made and they will learn enormously from that, and I think that’s partly what
these [schools] are for, is for making mistakes. And of course there’s a reward when things work and
when you’ve fixed something … it’s a fantastic reward. And you learn the things that are successful and
accumulate a knowledge base of what works in terms of your own voice. These all go into the toolbox
of your technique. (End-of-school individual interview)

Challenging students’ concepts of composing for orchestra

The composer-teachers drew attention to aspects inherent in an orchestral context which stu-
dents hadn’t adequately considered. They encouraged students to think not just of instruments,
but of instrumentalists: what players are able, willing, or happy to do. They consistently depicted
the orchestra as a particular kind of ensemble to be handled in particular ways: use clear tex-
tures, reinforce gestures, be aware of harmonic resonance, notate clearly and simply. Clarity
842 Psychology of Music 44(4)

and resonance take priority over intricacy. Composer-teachers approached problems mindful of
the constraints of notation-mediated communication, limited rehearsal time, and limited
player goodwill.
In interviews after the school, reflecting upon their experience, students reported how they
now took greater responsibility for their creative practice with performers:

I certainly was far more rigorous in preparing—putting aside the composition—preparing the score
and parts for the performance. [I was] much more meticulous and went through every single part and
matched it against the score; thought about the difficulties of what this player would be hearing and
what they’d need to play. (Composer-student 2, post-school individual interview)

Students’ post-school reports evidence more expert-like practice strategies (Hallam, 2001)
by applying more holistic understandings of the task (Benner, 1984/2001). They also show
understanding of the creative propulsion (Sternberg, 1999) the orchestra will accept, recogniz-
ing the necessity of a certain amount of entrepreneurial thinking (Barrett, 2006) on their
paths toward pro-c creative practice (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009). They are more aware of the
resultant tensions inherent in creative work in collaboration with a conservative ensemble, as
this student observed:

[Orchestral players] don’t have a lot of time so you have to utilize that time and you have to say, “What
can I sacrifice without sacrificing my idea, in order to get [it] across? What’s the best way of doing
that?” It’s not a process that I would ever have thought of before [this school] or would necessarily have
had to have thought of because I think it is a different set of skills, managing orchestral musicians who
are a different breed of muso.3 (Composer-student 2, post-school individual interview)

Composer-teachers conveyed that making the piece work in subsequent rehearsals was the
composer’s responsibility, not the performers’, implying that, due to the time-constrained work-
ing rhythms of the orchestra, composers must exercise innovation within the language and
structures in which the orchestra is most proficient. Knowing when to simplify and when to let
the conductor “rehearse it until it [works]” is informal, impressionistic, expert knowledge, or, as
Composer-teacher 2 put it, “an experience thing.” Informed by more extensive experience,
composer-teachers shared suggestions grounded in their accumulated knowledge of promis-
ingness (Bereiter & Scardamalia, 1993). In addressing these orchestra-specific issues, they
modeled adding further dimensions to judgement processes. When one evaluates promising-
ness in terms of more dimensions, one can understand and craft works of greater appropriate-
ness, clarity and innovation.

Concluding remarks
The combined analysis of observations and interviews from this composers’ school extends our
understanding of advanced composition teaching and learning. Teaching and learning in this
setting was characterized by teacher-led problem-finding dialogue with students and each
other, mediated by notated scores. Expert composer-teachers shared not only formal and tacit
knowledge of orchestral communication practices and compositional lore; they modeled prom-
isingness-judging as they suggested solutions and generated new possibilities in dialogue over
problems in students’ works. While clearly regarding knowledge-sharing as central to their
roles, composer-teachers left decision-making to the composer-students. Due to students’
advanced level and the imminent performance, composer-teachers were pragmatic, promoting
Love and Barrett 843

craftsmanship and orchestral conventions over innovation and composer voice. By sharing
from their more extensive experience and finely-honed perceptions they challenged students to
attend to a broader range of compositional concerns and to consider possibilities for more inter-
esting and appropriate work.
Expert practice requires extensive knowledge and experience. Composer-students in this
school are experienced but not yet fully professional. They are aspiring to pro-c creative prac-
tice: to work in the domain as professionals (Kaufman & Beghetto, 2009). Composer workshops
are structured to provide particular kinds of situated experiences; including opportunities for
learners to test and extend their practice and understandings, build contextual knowledge
(Benner, 1984/2001), and increase their “store” of promisingness knowledge (Bereiter &
Scardamalia, 1993). Although a short-term program such as this composers’ school cannot
provide comprehensive expertise development, to the extent it aims to prepare composers for
independent, pro-c practice, its teaching and learning strategies move beyond presenting rules
and principles toward encouraging participants to develop holistic perceptions of situations
and representations of compositional challenges (Benner, 1984/2001).

Even beginning composers can be encouraged to think beyond abstract technique and incorpo-
rate consideration of performer cultures. Learning to navigate specific genre or ensemble con-
texts will enable more effective collaboration. Because access to the professional orchestra is
limited and its culture is distinctive, such learning cannot be left to chance. Immersive experi-
ences guided by experienced mentors should be offered by orchestras.
Teachers should be encouraged to share their non-prescriptive tips, modeling how they
think, and thus, how students can teach themselves. When experienced creators problem-find
and -solve in dialogue, as in this masterclass, learners can observe often-hidden inner workings
of the creative process.
Reflecting on Bereiter and Scardamalia’s strategies for developing creative expertise (acquir-
ing a conceptual understanding of creativity, studying promisingness, teaching design, and
promoting cooperative creativity: 1993, pp. 147–149), students who understand the dynam-
ics of creative and expert practice should be able to make better use of advanced teaching and
learning opportunities such as this composers’ school. They will be able to recognize different
applications of rules and experience-based intuition, and interpret their experiences in ways
that lead to the ability to recognize promisingness.
In this study we have endeavored to extend understandings of the complex teaching and learn-
ing processes for eminent composer-teachers with emerging composers in transition to profes-
sional freelance practice. Greater understanding of processes of transferring promisingness and
agency to learners may inform teaching and learning at other levels and in other contexts.

We are grateful to the composer-teachers and composer-students who participated in this study and to
the management of the orchestra for generously granting us access.

Authors’ note
An earlier and condensed version of this article was presented to the 24th seminar of the Research
Commission of the ISME in Thessaloniki, Greece, July 2012.
844 Psychology of Music 44(4)

Ethical approval
Ethical approval for this project was given by The University of Queensland [reference number

This study was supported by the Australian Research Council Discovery scheme, grant no. DP0988312:
Eminence Perspectives: Case studies of the pedagogy of creative thought and practice in music (Margaret Barrett,
chief investigator), 2009-12.

1. One student asked to be outside the camera view.
2. We cannot give the precise number of students in the years studied because when considered in con-
junction with characteristics such as gender and first-time/returning (important for other publica-
tions arising from the study) it may be possible to identify the year and, thus, individual participants.
3. Slang for “musician.”

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